10 Best Nigerian Writers Every Writer Should Know About

Nigerian literature is incredibly rich and varied; if you are interested in exploring some of the best Nigerian writers, discover our guide below!

Literature is a reflection of the culture and the time it comes from. If you are interested in learning about a new place, you might also be interested in exploring Nigerian literature. Nigerian history is full of twists and turns, and Nigerian culture has changed significantly over the past few hundred years. As a result, Nigerian literature contains tremendous depth, emotion, and creativity.

To learn more about Nigerian literature, you may want to explore some of the top authors from this part of the world. Who are some of the best Nigerian writers you may want to explore? Keep reading to find out.

1. Chinua Achebe

Best Nigerian Writers: Chinua Achebe
Stuart C. Shapiro, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

It is difficult to talk about African writers, including Nigerian writers, without mentioning Chinua Abe. He is one of the most popular Nigerian writers and is often called the father of Nigerian literature. The Nigerian government tried to promote him to a leadership position within the government twice, but he refused them both times. He refused to join the government because he disagreed with the oppressive policies instituted by the Federal government.

There are plenty of excellent books to explore, but one of the best in Things fall Apart. Published in 1958, this book tells the story of a conflict between European colonizers and Native Nigerian traditions. The book focuses on societal values, cultural norms, and how Nigerian culture changed due to European colonization. 

“We do not ask for wealth because he that has health and children will also have wealth. We do not pray to have money but to have more kinsmen. We are better than animals because we have kinsmen. An animal rubs its itching flank against a tree, a man asks his kinsman to scratch him.”

Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
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Things Fall Apart
  • Anchor Books
  • Achebe, Chinua (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 209 Pages - 09/01/1994 (Publication Date) - Penguin Publishing Group (Publisher)

2. Femi Osofisan

Like numerous other Nigerian writers, the work of Femi Osofisan focuses on colonialism and its impact on Nigeria. Even though Nigeria is an independent country, the legacy of colonialism still runs deep. He focuses on the complex history of his country and uses powerful metaphors to communicate his point.

For example, one of his most famous works is Women of Owu, published in 2004. This is a unique story that retells the story of Euripedes but from the perspective of Nigeria and the Owu Kingdom. The Owu Kingdom was in power from 1821 to 1826. Femi Osofisan is one of the most celebrated Nigerian writers of all time.

“Don’t speak like that, my child. Death is sweet, we think. But it is easier to talk of it, than to welcome it. We do not know what is on the other side, whether it is better or worse than here. Whereas even at its most bitter, life offers hope at least, which death does not.”

Femi Osofisan, Women of Owu
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Women of Owu
  • Osofisan, Femi (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 92 Pages - 10/10/2006 (Publication Date) - Ibadan University Press (Publisher)

3. Sefi Atta

Sefi Atta is a writer known for her attention to detail and extreme emotion. She has the unique ability to incorporate a wide variety of themes in her work, all of them creating a subtle undertone that is easy to overlook. Her skill is perfectly displayed even in her first novel, published in 2005, called Everything Good Will Come. This is a story that focuses on a young girl who is waiting for school to start. The story takes place during a time in Nigeria when the military was in charge and ran the country as a dictatorship. It discusses what it is like for a girl to come of age in such a challenging environment. 

“Cooking was a skill, I thought; an art form. In our country, we appreciated the end result, but not the craft, perhaps because we didn’t have fancy names. Paring was “cut it.” Julienne was “cut it well.” Chopping was “cut it well well,” and so on till you had puree, which would probably be “mash it.” And, if anyone was measuring any ingredient in a kitchen, it meant that they really didn’t know what they were doing.”

Sefi Atta, Everything Good Will Come
Everything Good Will Come
  • paperback
  • Atta, Sefi (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 336 Pages - 11/10/2007 (Publication Date) - Interlink Books (Publisher)

4. Wole Soyinka

Next, you might also want to learn more about Wole Soyinka. He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1986 and was the first African writer to receive the award. Much of his writing focuses on the exploitation of Africa by other countries, using a wide variety of metaphors to communicate his powerful point. He also writes about the issues of oppression still rife throughout the African continent.

He discusses oppression by both African leaders and European colonizers. His work has been so powerful that there are Nigerian leaders who have even sentenced him to death in absentia. If you are interested in exploring his work, you may want to check out You Must Set Forth at Dawn: A Memoir. This is a book that focuses on his own experiences, thoughts, and memoirs. 

For my mind chooses this moment to travel twelve years backward when, drained of all emotion, I accom- panied the body of my friend Femi Johnson from Wiesbaden in Germany, bringing him home in defiance of the unfathomable conspiracy to leave him in that foreign land like a stray without ties of family and friends.

Wole Soyinka, You Must Set Forth at Dawn
You Must Set Forth at Dawn: A Memoir
  • Soyinka, Wole (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 528 Pages - 03/13/2007 (Publication Date) - Random House Trade Paperbacks (Publisher)

5. Buchi Emecheta

Buchi Emecheta was born in Lagos and is of Igbo descent. Eventually, she moved to London, where she lived with her husband. At the time, her husband was studying in London. They had been engaged to each other since they were young and eventually had five children; however, her husband was a violent man with a short temper.

As a result, she had to leave him and take her children with her. It should be no surprise that many of her works focus on the impact this left on her. One of her most famous works is called The Joys of Motherhood, which focuses on a woman who is validated in seeing her children go up and be successful. She was also given the title OBE in 2005.

“In Ibuza sons help their father more than they help their mother. A mother’s joy is only in the name. She worries over them,looks after them when they are small;but in the actual help on the farm ,the upholding of the family name,all belong to the father.”

Buchi Emecheta, The Joys of Motherhood
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The Joys of Motherhood
  • Emechta, Buchi (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 224 Pages - 09/04/2008 (Publication Date) - Pearson (Publisher)

6. Teju Cole

Top Nigerian Writers: Teju Cole
U.S. State Department, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Teju Cole was born in the United States but is of Nigerian descent. His family moved back to Nigeria, where he was raised, but he eventually moved back to the United States and settled in Brooklyn. Because he had such a diverse upbringing, it is also reflected in his work. He has enjoyed a career as a novelist, artist, historian, and photographer. He has also won numerous awards for his work, including Open City, published in 2011. It is set in New York a few years after 9/11 and focuses on a character who wanders throughout the city, trying to find his way. 

“To be alive, it seemed to me, as I stood there in all kinds of sorrow, was to be both original and reflection, and to be dead was to be split off, to be reflection alone.”

Teju Cole, Open City
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Open City: A Novel
  • Cole, Teju (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 259 Pages - 01/17/2012 (Publication Date) - Random House Trade Paperbacks (Publisher)

7. Ben Okri

Ben Okri is one of the most popular Nigerian writers of all time. He is different from many other Nigerian writers because he is a post-modern writer whose works are best described as magical realism. His goal is to focus on myths, ancestors, spirits, and other mythical creatures that may play a role in our world. One of his most famous works is a trilogy called Songs of Enchantment and Infinite Riches. This book focuses on the journey of a character named Azaro, the story’s spirit, child, and narrator. 

“Some people who are born don’t want to live. Others who are dead do’t want to die.”

Ben Okri, Songs of Enchantment and Infinite Riches
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Songs of Enchantment
  • Hardcover Book
  • Okri, Ben (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 297 Pages - 09/01/1993 (Publication Date) - Doubleday (Publisher)

8. Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani is an essayist who won her first writing award at 13. She has contributed to CNN, the Guardian, the BBC, and the New York Times during her career. One of her most famous works is I Do Not Come to You By Chance. This is an irreverent novel that also focuses on the challenges of finding work in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the protagonist eventually turns to scams.

“I always find it funny when people say that money makes people proud. If you check it, poor people are some of the proudest people in this world.”

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, I Do Not Come to You by Chance
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I Do Not Come to You by Chance
  • Nwaubani, Adaobi Tricia (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 402 Pages - 05/05/2009 (Publication Date) - Hachette Books (Publisher)

9. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of the youngest Nigerian authors, but her career is growing quickly. She has already written a few novels, many of which have won awards. Much of her work focuses on her country’s unique political atmosphere and its impact on people’s relationships. One of her most famous stories is called Purple Hibiscus, which tells the story of a family involved in plotting a political coup against the Nigerian government. The story also focuses on the trials and tribulations of the Nigerian people that led to the plight of its citizens. It is a gripping, powerful, and emotional story that provides an inside look at life in Nigeria in the wake of colonial rule.

“I meant to say I am sorry that Papa broke your figurines, but the words that came out were, ‘I’m sorry your figurines broke, Mama.”

Adichie, Purple Hibiscus
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Purple Hibiscus: A Novel
  • Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 336 Pages - 04/17/2012 (Publication Date) - Algonquin Books (Publisher)

10. Helon Habila

Helon Habila is a Nigerian writer who graduated from the University of Jos in 1995. Initially, he worked as a lecturer before becoming a writer for a local magazine. In 2002, he moved to England and joined the University of East Anglia as an African fellow. That is when he decided to become a writer and published his first book during this time. It is called Waiting for an Angel, and it focuses on a variety of narratives that focus on what life is like for someone living under the dictatorial rule of the military government in Nigeria. The book won the Commonwealth Writers’ prize, launching his career as a writer.

“This was soul calling to soul. A tired, trapped lock at last meeting the key that unlocks it.”

Helon Habila, Waiting for an Angel
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Waiting for An Angel: A Novel
  • Habila, Helon (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 240 Pages - 01/17/2004 (Publication Date) - W. W. Norton & Company (Publisher)

To learn more, check out our round-up of the best Hemingway books!

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